By Alejandro Arboleda Hoyos, EL COLOMBIANO, October 31, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Íngrid Betancourt said it would be about Operation Jaque (Checkmate) and about politics. She also told why she pulled away from Gustavo Petro, and she insists on uniting the center.

Íngrid Betancourt wants to return to the political arena with the Verde Oxigeno (Green Oxygen) Party. She warned that the administration of Iván Duque Márquez is a lost four years.

The former presidential candidate and former kidnap victim is holding onto her option of returning to the political arena with her party: Green Oxygen. Just as happened with the New Liberalism Party, she hopes that the National Electoral Council will recognize the legal capacity of the group. That would allow it to participate in the legislative and presidential elections that will take place in 2022.

In a dialog with EL COLOMBIANO, Betancourt made it clear that she did not see herself as a presidential candidate, and she explained why she distanced herself from Gustavo Petro—whom she supported in 2018—because of his possible closeness to what she calls cronyism proposals. She insisted that she still hopes that Alejandro Gaviria will join with Sergio Fajardo—in spite of the former liberal President César Gaviria–, and she concluded by saying that she has planned to open a substantive dialog with former President Álvaro Uribe.

What will the comeback of Green Oxygen mean?

“The Green Oxygen Party broadens the democracy, in the same way as the arrival of the New Liberalism Party and the National Salvation Party. They are all parties that were silenced by the dramatic events of physical and moral assassinations in a system of corruption, which is what is ruling in Colombia.”

What are their plans for the elections?

The plan is to consolidate the Coalition of Hope; we are going to support the primary candidates with endorsements, and we will take part by putting forward candidates in the single lists for Congress.”

Are you aspiring now to be a candidate for president?

“What I’m most interested in doing is supporting the Coalition of Hope; they are a group of excellent candidates, not just because they have the ethical credentials, but because they have been good leaders, they have shown Colombia that they can make difficult decisions, and I’m really enthusiastic about the project that they are promoting. It’s in that sense that I’m approaching the Coalition; everything else seems irrelevant to me, because what lifts my spirits is looking for ways I can help Colombia get out of the tunnel of corruption that it’s in right now.”

Have you decided to back Sergio Fajardo in particular?

“Yes, I have a lot of affinity with Sergio Fajardo. He is the one who has the most public recognition, but the Coalition is a collective, it’s not just Sergio. It’s a group that is united in its commitment, a concept that is sui géneris and not seen before in Colombia, because all of us have their degrees of perfection and experience that qualifies them to be presidential candidates. They are alternatives in their opinions in voting; none of them have a machine and they are disposed to support each other mutually.”

Would you support having Alejandro Gaviria join the Coalition at some point?

“It would be very important and beneficial for Colombia if Alejandro Gaviria were in the Coalition. I feel that that would probably change the semantics, because there is some confusion between liberal ideas, the Liberal Party, and liberal machinery, and those are not the same. Liberalism has some very good people and it’s time that the Liberal Party get free of that machinery and make room for young people and the forces of renovation.”

Would you refuse to support César Gaviria as Sergio Fajardo does?

“For me the problem isn’t César Gaviria. I think he could be part of the solution, because as the head of the Liberal Party, he is someone who could do the most to purify the collection of machines, especially by not endorsing anyone that has been accused of corruption.”

What do you think about the union of Gustavo Petro, Roy Barreras, and Armando Benedetti?

“I’m concerned about the drift to cronyism that there might be with Gustavo Petro. In fact, that is one of the reasons I decided not to approach him when there was an opportunity. I haven’t talked with him since 2018, when I supported him in the presidential runoff election. He is a person I admire and respect, but I have to say that the radicalization of his way of speaking is something that I’m not comfortable with. Colombia has to come out of the blindness of polarization.”

What are Petro’s proposals that you aren’t comfortable with?

“Talking about expropriation inspires a legal insecurity that frightens off investors; that seems to me to be a fundamental error. I’m also worried about his reflections within a context of polarizing and vengeful discourse, as when he announced fiscal punishments for certain economic sectors. We can achieve social justice along with the business community, not against it.”

Were you also distancing yourself from Sergio Fajardo?

“No, we have always been in contact by WhatsApp, even though we have not seen each other face-to-face for a while.”

And with Álvaro Uribe?

“Just recently he sent me a message through a mutual friend. He invited me to come and see him and, at that time, I couldn’t, but I would like to do it. It’s definitely another conversation that I have pending.”

They say that you and he are enemies. Is that true?

No, not at all. I’m very grateful for the fact that he authorized Operation Jaque. It was a difficult operation, militarily speaking, and it was a political risk that he took, together with Juan Manuel Santos. I’m grateful to both of them for taking that risk for all of us. I owe them my freedom and my comrades’ freedom.

It’s true that Álvaro Uribe and I clashed during the 2002 campaign. When they kidnapped me that year, he was a candidate at the same time as I was, and so we were on opposite sides. On the day we were freed, in 2008, I remember that it was kind of a tense moment. There was a lot of emotion and the result of Operation Jaque was so unexpected, that all at once we were face-to-face. After so many years, we were both surprised. After the liberation, I went to see him and we met in New York and talked. They were always cordial meetings.

And what issues would you take up in that pending conversation?

“I think it would be interesting to know how he experienced the 2002 campaign, and afterwards, how he made the decision to order Operation Jaque to be undertaken. I mean, to share those moments of history that we both experienced from different perspectives. But I would also like to hear him on his vision for this country, what he thinks about the future of Colombia. The country has to get out of this polarization, and to do that, we have to be able to listen independently to our contrary positions. Having differences doesn’t mean that we can’t talk. The most interesting conversations are with people that don’t think the way we do. That exercise would be very valuable for Álvaro Uribe.”

What is your conception of the Iván Duque administration?

I see that as a loss of four years. As could have been anticipated from his positions, he has lost time in consolidating the peace in Colombia, and the most affected by that have been the poorest people. But also, he has made mistakes from the beginning and all along. President Duque had some good ideas, but he didn’t know how to choose the people to be around him.”

What are you referring to?

“In the campaign they started supporting people who were very questionable; they had past relationships with connections to the drug traffic, to the paramilitaries; I mean all of those questionable policies have kept Colombia in captivity for many years.”

Are you talking about “Ñeñe” Hernández and the ñeñepolitica?

“Yes, of course.”

Do you think anything could change in the 9 months that he has left in power?

“It’s possible that he could change some things, but I think that the situation is more complicated than it was when he started, because today he doesn’t have a Congress that follows him, and he has lost credibility at the international level. Besides that, the pandemic has transformed the country and the social crisis is more severe.”

Where should this country be going?

“Colombia has to get out of its imprisonment by corruption. That is the first task we have to accomplish if we want to be a viable country.”

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